Rule of the Vakatakas in Northern India!
In early India, the chronology and genealogy of dynasties cannot be established with absolute certainty, as the source material is inadequate to postulate a definite chronology. The Vakataka dynasty is one among them.
Therefore, the details available about them are mostly conjectural. In the absence of ascertainable details, we have to depend on conjectures.
The Vakatakas, who were probably the feudatories of the Satavahanas, became the most important political power in the Deccan and Central India, after the disappearance of their overlords for a period of three centuries from 3rd century to the 6th century AD.
Their original home is not yet very satisfactorily established and their origin is shrouded in mystery. Some scholars hold the view that they were Brahmins and their original home was Malwa. Others are of the view that they came from South India or the Eastern Deccan. However, as most of their inscriptions have been found in Madhya Pradesh, R.C. Majumdar concludes that their original home could be today’s Madhya Pradesh.
Though the Vakatakas at one stage of their existence, ruled over dominions extending from former Bundelkhand in the north to Hyderabad in the south, the core area of their rule appears to be confined to modern Madhya Pradesh. Until recently, the period of their rule was very controversial but the Poona copper plate of Prabhavathi Gupta clinched the issue by proving that the Vakatakas were the contemporaries of the Guptas.
However, it is interesting to note that they do not figure in the list of vanquished rulers subdued by Samudragupta. Though on a smaller scale, the Vakatakas too made significant contributions to Indian culture by adding substantially to the famous gallery of cave temples and paintings at Ajanta. The founder of the Vakataka dynasty was Vindhyasakti. He is said to have ruled from Purika, in the last quarter of 3rd century AD.
He is credited to have extended his political power by occupying Malwa. He is also said to have performed a number of Vedic sacrifices and thus revived Brahmanical rituals, which were in abeyance during the rule of the later Satavahanas.
Vindhayasakti’s son and successor Pravarasena I, who is said to have ruled from AD 280 to 340, is considered the founder of the real power and greatness of the Vakatakas. As he assumed the title of Samrat and as he happened to be the only ruler who assumed that title, it is believed that he must have enlarged his kingdom in all directions. His son Gautamiputra married the daughter of Bhanaga of the Bharashiva dynasty. By this marriage alliance, he appears to have improved the political stature of the Vakataka dynasty.
Thus, by military exploits and matrimonial alliances, Pravarasena, extended his kingdom from Bundelkhand in the north to Hyderabad in the south and to commemorate his victories, he performed an Asvamedha sacrifice and one Vajapeya sacrifice. Pravarasena had four sons who were ruling independently in separate provinces. The Puranas mention that on the death of Pravarasena, his four sons divided the empire and declared their independence. It appears that Gautamiputra died during the lifetime of his father and hence, his son Rudrasena I succeeded his grandfather Pravarsena to the throne and ruled from Nandivardhana, near modern Nagpur.
Sarvasena, another son of Pravarasena, started ruling independently from Vastugulma, which is identified as modern Bassien in Vidarbha as his capital. We do not have any knowledge of the other two sons of Pravarasena. Thus, by AD 340, the Vakatakas were divided into two lines, one ruling from Nandivardhana and the other ruling from Vastugulma.
In spite of these happening in the Vakataka kingdom, the contemporary Gupta rulers never attacked the Vakatakas. It could be because the Guptas thought that the Vakatakas would be useful to them in defeating the Western Kashtrapas. Rudrasena is said to have ruled from AD 340 to 365 but as no inscription of this is available, nothing can be said about the events that took place during his reign.
He is known to have been a worshipper of Lord Mahabhairava, another name of Siva. Rudrasena was followed by his son Prithvisena I, who ruled from AD 365 to 390. He appears to have spent his time in consolidating his kingdom and the chief feature of his reign appears to be a political alliance between Chandragupta II and himself Together they defeated the Saka Satraps of Malwa and Kathiawar.
It was during his reign that the Guptas and the Vakatakas entered into a matrimonial alliance. Prithvisena’s son Rudrasena II, the crown prince was married to Prabhavati Gupta, the daughter of Chandragupta II. Prithivisena also was a Saiva like his father. Rudrasena II ruled only for a period of five years from AD 390-395. As he died prematurely leaving behind two minor sons Diwakarasena and Damodarasena, his wife Prabhavatigupta ruled as the regent until AD 410. Unfortunately, Diwakarasena also died prematurely so that Damodarasena became the ruler.
Damodarasena ruled for a period of 35 years and assumed the title of Pravarasena II. A dozen copper-plate grants of his were discovered in different parts of Vidarbha. He is credited with the founding of a new capital at Pravarapura, which is identified as Paonar in the present-day Wardha district. He was also a poet in Prakrit and was the author of Setubandhakavya that won appreciation from contemporary poets and scholars. He entered into a matrimonial alliance with the contemporary Kadamba ruler as his son Narendrasena was married to a princess of Kuntala, Ajihata Bhattarika, the daughter of Kakutsavarman of the Kadamba dynasty.
Narendrasena ruled for a decade from 455-465 AD. He had to face the invasion of Nala Bhavadottavarman both in the beginning and at the end of his reign. In-between, he made some conquests and yet he had to face the stiff opposition from Nalas. His son Prithvisena II succeeded Narendrasena.
He is credited with having retrieved the fallen fortunes of the Vakatakas. He had to face thrice the invasion of Harisena of Vastugulma branch and the invasion of Bhavadottavarman of the Nala dynasty. He also appears to have fought with the Traikutaka king, Dahrasena of southern Gujarat. He is the known last ruler of Nandivardhana branch of the Vakataka dynasty. We may conclude that after his death, during the time of his successors, Harisena of the Vastugulma branch conquered them and united that kingdom with his own kingdom.
The founder of the Vastugulma line of the Vakatakas was Sarvasena, the son of Pravarasena I. It is believed that his successor Vindhyasena or Vindhyasakti ruled over the southern part of Vidarbha, the northern part of Hyderabad state and some other adjoining territories. He is said to have defeated a Kadamba ruler of Kuntala. He ruled for four decades. His son and successor Pravarasena II appears to have ruled for a period of fifteen years. Devasena, who was a pleasure-seeking ruler, followed him but luckily a very capable minister, Hasthibhoja, served him. His successor Harisena II was the ablest and the greatest ruler of this line, who ruled from AD 480 to 515.
He united the two Vakataka kingdoms and extended his territories by conquering Kuntala, Avanti, Kalinga, Konkan and Andhra. Dandin, a poet of 6th century AD described Harisena as “powerful, truthful and bountiful, glorious, lofty, and a penetrating critic of ethical and economic compendia”.
His kingdom extended from Malwa in the north to south Maharashtra in the south and from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Arabian Sea in the west. With the death of Harisena II, the glory of the Vakatakas ended and the Nalas, the Kadambas, the Kalachuris and Yasodharman of Malwa occupied their territory.
Walter M. Spink observes that what Harisena did was to stave off the seam of decay he presided over the final thrust of the Classical Age by his patronage of the Ajanta cave paintings. As the Western Chalukyas of Badami never claimed to have defeated the Vakatakas, the Vakataka power must have disappeared by the middle of the 6th century AD. The Vakatakas played an effective role in the political game of the Deccan for more than two and a half centuries, and made significant contributions to the growth of culture.
The silence over Samudragupta’s exploits against the Vakatakas in the Allahabad pillar Prasasti and the matrimonial alliance contracted by Chandragupta II made some scholars postulate a theory that the Vakatakas were also powerful contemporaries of the Guptas. It is also suggested that their rule and achievements were overshadowed by the Guptas’ glory and grandeur. Further, the revival of Brahmanical religion is also attributed to them as they performed many Asvamedhas and other religious ceremonies and made substantial land grants to Brahmans.
At the same time, it is also said that they were liberal in outlook and patronized Buddhism and literature, and kings like Pravarasena II and Sarvasena were themselves poets of great repute in Prakrit. Pravarasena II is the celebrated author of Setubandhakavya and Sarvasena was the author of Harivijaya, another work of considerable merit in Prakrit. A style by name Vaidharbhariti was developed in Sanskrit during their rule, which was praised by the poets, Kalidasa, Banabhatta and Dandin.
They are also credited with having built a few temples in Tigwa and Nachanakuthara. They do not however, show their individual style but indicate continuation of Indo-Persepolitan style. They made a remarkable contribution in the field of painting and Ajanta cave numbers XVI, XVII and XIX are the best examples of Vakataka excellence in the field of painting and in particular the painting Mahabhinishkramana.
Not only the Vakataka rulers, but their ministers or governors Hastibhoja and Varahadeva too extended their benevolent patronage to the Ajanta cave painters. Thus, the Vakatakas leave behind them as patrons of art and letters, a stamp of their own.